NEMA’s Lighting Systems Index increased in the first quarter of 2013 following a 3.4 gain in the fourth quarter of 2012, growing 5.4% on a quarter-to-quarter basis and by 3.8% on a year-over-year basis. Lighting equipment demand has struggled to gain traction since the recovery began and remains well below the levels observed during the previous economic expansion. Fixtures, miniature lamps, emergency lamps, and large lamps registered gains in sales value while ballasts fell further on a year-over-year basis.
Some key drivers for lighting equipment demand are improving. The housing recovery remains on track as overall housing starts were roughly 20% higher in April on a year-over-year basis. Building permits, a typically less volatile measure, climbed more than 14% in April from a year ago. Total housing starts are estimated to surpass 1 million in 2013 and 1.275 million in 2014.
By contrast, nonresidential construction is improving more slowly, with investment outlays up slightly more than 1% on a year-over-year basis in the first quarter. Leading indicators such as architecture firm billings and income property prices continue to indicate that continued improvement is on the horizon, as the industrial and commercial components of the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) climbed to its highest level in a year and topline readings increased for the second month in a row in March. The outlook for commercial construction (including office, retail, warehouse, dining/drinking establishments) is more promising for electrical equipment manufacturers as it is expected to outpace the broader sector in the coming several quarters.